Top-level experts in audience research, streaming tech innovation, interactive entertainment and competitive gaming joined this year’s inaugural Esports BAR+ Americas to exchange ideas about helping brands target and reach the much-coveted esports viewers.
As professional and casual competitive video gaming evolves, its audience size is simultaneously growing to a predicted critical mass of 490 million globally by this year’s end and to a potential 888 million by 2024.
In a series of masterclass Esports BAR+ Americas panel talks, speakers discussed why brand owners need a deeper understanding of their audience if they want tangible results from their investments in esports sponsorships and advertising.
As Nicole Pike, Global Sector Head Of Esports & Gaming at global market-research group YouGov, pointed out in the session called “Helping Brands Navigate The Right Channels To Achieve ROI”, esports-audience measurement is improving. But she warned that the days of throwing money at an esports event and seeing what sticks are over.
“You have to know what you are going to measure before you can start measuring it. It is one of the things that, especially early on in esports, led to less than successful partnerships because there was no clear idea upfront of what the goal for getting into esports was for.”
Esports can offer return on investments
In a fireside chat with Lisa Jenkins, Vice President & Account Leadership at international marketing agency CSM Sport & Entertainment, Pike pointed to advances in measurement techniques for assessing a brand’s reach.
In addition to YouGov’s BrandIndex service and the Average Minute Audience metric Pike helped developed while working at TV-audience research giant Nielsen, she and Jenkins mentioned other practices brands can adopt to track an esports campaign’s effectiveness.
The two noted that brands could also use in-house customer data and liaise with the sector itself, such as live-streaming platform operators like Twitch, video-game publishers like Riot Games, and esports organisations. Jenkins said: “The industry itself will help you understand; they are not trying to trick you. They want to make it work for them as much as for you and there are some great resources out there.”
Pike demonstrated how a long-established non-endemic brand like Gillette, the personal-care and shaving products maker, converted US esports fans into purchasers in a recent campaign. Purchases among the targeted group rose to 32% in the third quarter of this year compared to 19% the same period in 2018. “Sometimes, for a big brand like this, there isn’t a huge opportunity to increase awareness because so many people know about it,” Pike added. “Yet, this shows the impact went all the way down the purchase funnel, which obviously relates to dollars.” That is why improved audience-measurement techniques are crucial, she declared:
“When there is audience measurement, there is a lot more excitement and trust in esports and in the investments brands are making because they know they are going to be able to figure out whether there is a return or not.”
Jenkins also reminded non-endemic marketers that collaborating with esports and video-gaming creators is very similar to the way they already engage with other entertainment sectors. “Gaming is essentially entertainment. You should think of gaming right alongside a music strategy, film, TV entertainment strategy, and see how those overlap,” she said.
An interesting revelation was learning that esports viewers are no longer restricted to the young male-skewed Gen Z and Millennial digital natives normally associated with gaming. As Pike disclosed, a recent demographics survey among US esports fans and viewers of live video-game streaming showed that esports fans are also likely to go to a bar for a drink, use gyms and like decorative packaging.
“All of a sudden, you go from this image of a young male to really being able to think more about how their psyche is working, what they value, what they are thinking about,” Pike stated. “To me, that is the type of data and insight I am hoping brands are starting to look for to be able to really maximise their ROI.”
Esports audience and their habits
The sector should stop creating a divide between those who watch competitive gaming on streaming platforms and those who watch traditional sports on linear TV, said speakers during the panel called “Keeping Ahead Of Changing Audience Habits”.
“In fact, the viewing behaviour of audiences for live streaming esports and those for traditional-sports TV could inform each other”, declared Nathan Lindberg, Regional Vice President East at giant live-streaming platform Twitch.
“When you talk about how esports is challenging traditional sports, it is in the attention of consumers. Younger consumers are voting with their eyeballs, their time, their wallets and they are saying: ‘I want new things, I want different things; I want to consume in different ways,’” he said.
On the other hand, esports streaming broadcasters could learn from the simplicity with which traditional-sports TV has broadened its audience to include families. He mentioned the yellow line drawn with computer graphics on TV screens during the live transmission of the NFL’s American football games to help any viewer understand when a point is scored. “How do you put computer graphics somewhere in League of Legends that says: ‘Get this; win points.’ How do you simplify these massively complex video games? That is the struggle linear TV has.”
“The way they distribute that content in 2 million homes in Denmark means we see potentially 300,000, 400,000, 500,000 Danes tune in on a weekend when BLAST is live. That is an insane amount of activation around any piece of content.”
“Competitive-gaming events could pick up tips from how the rigorously sponsored Olympic Games is broadcast to different cultures and languages globally”, offered Michael Heina, International Esports Lead (EMEA & APAC) at audience-measurement conglomerate Nielsen. He referred to Greco-Roman wrestling, which happens to be a popular Olympic event.
“Every four years, you have Greco-Roman wrestling on TV. No one understands what’s happening and the broadcasters have to explain it to us every time,” Heina said. “This is something esports can learn from traditional sports: how you can get an audience that has no clue about what is happening into the gameplay within seconds.”
Yet, as Ricardo Rodrigues, Head of Business Development, Americas – Broadcast Services at telecom-services group, Telstra, declared: “Sports and esports don’t have to play by the same rules. They are different animals, each one with its own strengths and weaknesses.” However, he perceived a symbiotic link between the two:
“Esports can learn from traditional sports for things like fan monetisation, media rights, creating compelling content to attract a more mainstream audience. Traditional sports can learn from esports like engaging a younger audience and demographics, being more interactive and more agile in terms of broadcast productions.”
Esports is sports in Latin America
The concept of esports being placed on the same linear-TV programming schedule as conventional high-performance sports has been difficult for many to imagine. In Latin America, however, traditional TV networks cannot get enough of competitive video gaming as sports content.
During the panel titled “Esports and TV in LATAM: A Success Story Of League Of Legends”, executives from Latin American traditional broadcast networks highlighted viewers’ demand for esports.
“We could see the esports market is growing and wanted TV Azteca to be close to the audiences, who were asking for content on esports,” stated Rodolfo Ramírez, Director of Sports at Mexican broadcast giant TV Azteca.
It has collaborated with game publisher Riot Games to bring League of Legends tournaments to its screens. It has initially broadcast the events on TV Azteca’s digital platforms because “it was a native platform for the esports consumers”, Ramirez explained. But, interestingly, the broadcaster promoted the gaming tournaments on its traditional sports programming and directed those audiences to the esports shows. “We had a lot of (esports) promotion on our sports shows, including the transmission of soccer, boxing or other traditional sports that we are really strong on.” The next move will be to bring esports content directly to its linear platforms.
Adriana Vásquez, Manager at public service broadcaster Televisión Señal in Colombia, said experience had shown that esports not only lured young people to its channel, it also broadened the network’s reach among family audiences. She said: “What we saw in Colombia is that young people were watching gaming on TV together with their families: 57% of the people watching the transmission were young so that means 43% of the audience were older people, including parents.”
What prompted Riot Games’ Latin American office to engage with broadcast TV for its regional League of Legends tournaments? “To be on TV Azteca on the same channels and sections that it has for sports was a validation for us,” Raul Fernandez, General Manager for Latin America, Riot Games, stated.
“They did not approach us as an entertainment company nor as a video game company; they approached us as another sport. To be in the sports news broadcast alongside football, basketball or other established traditional sports was for us a way to gain mainstream coverage.”
A broader future audience
Views expressed on the When Esports Tastemakers Join Forces To Shape The Future panel indicated that the potential number of different audiences to be reached via esports will grow in the future. Forced to work from home because of the Covid-19 crisis, many parents for the first time discovered the extent to which competitive video gaming had permeated their kids’ leisure activities.
“By deploying the internet to ensure young fans continued to see their favourite esports teams in action, with their parents’ blessing, esports organisations had automatically expanded the audience base”, Wouter Sleijffers, CEO of Excel Esports, said.
“While things felt like a bit of a setback, very quickly we got back on our feet and worked in a production environment that we believe is still a great experience for viewers,” he said about transitioning the tournaments from physical venues to online platforms.
“Another trigger for esports growth will be local media organisations gaining the rights and opportunities to promote esports locally as they will have a vested incentive to do so”, Jakob Lund Kristensen, founder/Chief Commercial Officer at esports organisation Astralis Group, said.
“In Denmark, we have probably the only really serious major Counter Strike media distribution deal in the world,” Lund Kristensen said. “That is because they are investing in it, they are building the stories around it, they are sending reporters to talk about us. If you want to build strong local teams, you need big media distributors to go in and invest and help build the interest for it.”
Schuyler Winter Jr, Esports Programme Specialist at games developer Psyonix, agreed :
“When you start bringing brands into the conversation, focusing on the regional level as a step down as well as a feeder into the international-level tournaments makes a lot of sense,” he reasoned. “Look at the Olympics, for example. That is a completely international event but how brands interact with it is based on their market and where their distribution channels are.”
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